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I need help deciding what career to choose.

Take a step-by-step pragmatic approach to choosing a career.

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We've all said at one time or another, "I need help deciding what career to choose." You're not alone in your frustration.

I have helped three children get ready for college, to date. Here are some practical tips for choosing a career that I've learned along the way.

First of all keep this in mind: overwhelmingly, career decisions do not just drop in your lap; you must...

  • be proactive,
  • do your research
  • and, to the best of your ability, decide. (When the time comes, your best decision will be just fine.)
When you have completed these steps, you can feel confidant you have done your best in choosing a career that will be a good fit for you.

I need help deciding what career to choose - Step 1.

  • Assessment tests are your friends.
Your goal in this step is to get to know yourself as well as is reasonably possible in a condensed amount of time. It doesn't matter if you're 15 looking ahead to college or you are 45 in desperate need of a career change, skipping or short-cutting this step is the number one reason you will be unhappy with your final career choice.

It seems simple enough: use career testing to assess your skills and aptitudes. Then use this information to choose a handul of career paths. Do a bit more research and pick one. And that IS the basic idea of this step, but you must put your time and energy into it for it to pay off.

Do several career aptitude tests. Take a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs, as well. You'll need to put all this information together for best results. Think of it like this. You are putting together a spectacular puzzle. At this stage you are assembling the pieces. Each is vital to the end result even though you can't see the final picture yet. Assemble those pieces and you will be helping yourself decide what career to choose.

Try to look at career assessments in a balanced way. No test knows you like you do and no test can TELL you what to do. Talk to trusted family and friends -- people who know you well -- about the results of these career and personality tests. Consider all this information, then trust yourself.  Remember, you need help deciding what career to choose ... not someone to make the decision for you. Take lots of notes, organize them, and a pattern will start to emerge.

"'Around 50 percent of students enrolled at Central Michigan University start their college careers not knowing what career to pursue', said Julia Barlow Sherlock, director of Career Services.
'In addition, 85 percent of the ones who think they know what they want to do end up changing their mind once they are in college', she said." source

So whether you are just starting college and trying to determine your major or dealing with another career extreme of developing resumes for housewives reentering the workforce, you will need to arm yourself with solid career data to be successful.

Step 2  in deciding what career to choose - time to do research.

  • Research the top career fields from your career assessment testing.
Compare (and keep notes) on the following from all your career finalists.
  1. Job requirements.
  2. Education requirements.
  3. Job locations (urban/rural).
  4. Job conditions (inside office/outside field work, working with others, working by yourself, etc.).
  5. Industry-wide longterm career outlook.
  6. Portability into other careers (can this career be used as a springboard to other careers?).
  7. And, of course, salaries.

Listen to people who actually work in these categories by visiting related forums and websites. If appropriate (and only with your parent's approval if you're a minor) actually talk to people in your first round career picks. For example, you might say something like, "I need help deciding what career to choose. This one is looking interesting to me. What are its pros and cons? Would you enter this career field again? Why or why not?" Thank them for their answers and carefully consider the information you've received.

Try to find information from both new hires and old-timers in the career fields you are considering. In addition, do searches for any trade journals or industry information in the careers you are considering.

In other words, start to make yourself comfortable with these top choices and see, over a bit of time, how well they 'fit' you.

Step 3 in "I need help deciding what career to choose" -- dig deeper.

The previous step will have eliminated some of your earlier career choices. You probably only have a handful (or one or two) career picks left at this point. So it's time to get serious about discovering why these are good career choices for you or why they are not.

  • If possible, do job shadowing on these top career choices.
Do you know anyone...who knows anyone...who works in these fields? If it's a professional field, such as dentistry, law, engineering, etc., you might want to call up a local office in your chosen field and explain that you are considering going into that career field and ask if you could job shadow for a day. Offer to work alongside them, for free, doing whatever work they can give you so you can get up close and personal with this career idea. Treat this like an opportunity for a real job. The people you talk to will appreciate your professionalism. Whether they can help you or not, thank them and if you do get the chance to job shadow for someone, a handwritten thank you is a must.

==> At this point in your career search:
  • sleep on it.
  • pray about it.
  • ask yourself "if money or education were no object, based on what I've learned so far, what would I decide today?"
  • keep talking to those trusted family members and friends.
  • make a list of the parts of your career choice you are attracted to and the parts that are bothering you. Why do you think you see things this way?
  • remember that there's no such thing as a total dream job. Every career choice has its challenges and 'bad days'. Keep a balanced perspective.
  • do you feel like a budding business owner? What is the education needed to be an entrepreneur?

Step 4 -- dive in and make a career choice.

By this stage, you may no longer be saying "I need help deciding what career to choose." If so, congratulations!

However, you may end up with equally appealing choices. At this point, you'll just have to dive in and pick. Remember, this is a GOOD problem to have!

Let's summarize on how to decide what career to choose.

  • Get to know yourself through assessment and personality tests. Talk about your plans with trusted family and friends; folks who really know you and want the best for you.
  • Deeply research your handful of career choices. A pattern will begin to emerge for you to see.
  • As best you can, try on your career choice/s to date. Get a feel for what having them as a lifestyle would be like for you.
  • Make your best decision...and get moving.
One more thing...once you decide, don't second guess yourself. Since you've done your homework, any of these final career choices would probably be just fine for you.

So don't stress. Commit to yourself and your future. Feel excited about your choice and start making plans to set your future in motion.

And congratulations!!

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